The Current, delivered daily.
Those were a couple of the words used to describe consumer confidence in May. The Conference Board reported that the index fell to a six-month low amid debt ceiling anxiety and increasing concerns about employment.
“Consumer confidence declined in May as consumers’ view of current conditions became somewhat less upbeat while their expectations remained gloomy,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economics at the Conference Board, in a statement. “...While consumer confidence has fallen across all age and income categories over the past three months, May’s decline reflects a particularly notable worsening in the outlook among consumers over 55 years of age.”
The dip among those over 55 came as Congress negotiated a deal over increasing the debt ceiling that included talk of cuts to programs such as social security and Medicare. While officials reached an agreement over Memorial Day weekend, the Conference Board’s survey was fielded prior to that date.
The job picture appears to be more anecdotally cloudy, as the number of consumers reporting jobs as “plentiful” fell to four percentage points to 43.5%. The job market has been consistently robust for nearly three years, as unemployment remains near historic lows. In April, the economy added 253,000 jobs, which remained a positive sign despite being below the gains of prior months. The confidence reading comes ahead of fresh data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.
Despite the declines, there were signs that consumers are not completely pulling back on big-ticket items. Plans to buy big-ticket items such as cars and appliances ticked up on a monthly basis. It’s worth watching whether this extends to providing resilience in other discretionary categories, which have seen a pullback in early 2023.
Nevertheless, the index offered another sign that the consumer mood is getting more pessimistic. It was the fourth time in five months that confidence fell. On Friday, the University of Michigan offered another with a consumer sentiment report that showed a 7% dip.
Brands and retailers must work to reach consumers that are increasingly in less of a buying mood than the month before.
Trending in Economy
Labor disputes on the West Coast could cause further disruption heading into peak season.
When the first half of 2023 is complete, imports are expected to dip 22% below last year.
That’s according to new data from the Global Port Tracker, which is compiled monthly by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
The decline has been building over the entire year, as imports dipped in the winter. With the spring, volume started to rebound. In April, the major ports handled 1.78 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units. That was an increase of 9.6% from March. Still it was a decline of 21.3% year over year – reflecting the record cargo hauled in over the spike in consumer demand of 2021 and the inventory glut 2022.
In 2023, consumer spending is remaining resilient with in a strong job market, despite the collision of inflation and interest rates. The economy remains different from pre-pandemic days, but shipping volumes are beginning to once again resemble the time before COVID-19.
“Economists and shipping lines increasingly wonder why the decline in container import demand is so much at odds with continuous growth in consumer demand,” said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett, in a statement. “Import container shipments have returned the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019 and appear likely to stay there for a while.”
Retailers and logistics professionals alike are looking to the second half of the year for a potential upswing. Peak shipping season occurs in the summer, which is in preparation for peak shopping season over the holidays.
Yet disruption could occur on the West Coast if labor issues can’t be settled. This week, ports from Los Angeles to Seattle reported closures and slowdowns as ongoing union disputes boil over, CNBC reported. NRF called on the Biden administration to intervene.
“Cargo volume is lower than last year but retailers are entering the busiest shipping season of the year bringing in holiday merchandise. The last thing retailers and other shippers need is ongoing disruption at the ports,” aid NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “If labor and management can’t reach agreement and operate smoothly and efficiently, retailers will have no choice but to continue to take their cargo to East Coast and Gulf Coast gateways. We continue to urge the administration to step in and help the parties reach an agreement and end the disruptions so operations can return to normal. We’ve had enough unavoidable supply chain issues the past two years. This is not the time for one that can be avoided.”